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Audiences may not have been as big as hoped, but at least the Autumn sun shone brightly on this year’s collogue amid freezing temperatures, gilding the ancient stones of Old Gala House - an ideal venue if ever there was one, with its numerous rooms, several of which were adorned impressively by the Alan Jones bagpipe collection. If an agreement can be reached between the Scottish Traditional Musical Trust, Ettrick and Lauderdale District Council (owners of the house) and Alan Jones, it is hoped to establish a piping museum cum active traditional music centre at the house, which would be a real shot in the arm for Border music-making.

LBPS Chairman Gordon Mooney, who is also a trustee of the Scottish Traditional Music Trust, bore much of the burden of organising this year’s Collogue, and has been extensively involved in the plans to establish the under-used Old Gala House as a traditional music centre. It was appropriate, therefore, that he and his wife Barbara open the collogue with a rousing fanfare and march on Border pipes and bassoon.

The first session, Dr Fred Freeman’s enthusiastic and extensive (to the point of running well over time!) survey of the sounds, influences and dynamics of the Scottish folk revival was a salutary reminder of what the “cauld-wind” renaissance is part of - little short of a musical revolution over the past 15 years or so in what, he reminded us, has never been a homogeneous culture.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty of bagpipe physics in Aspects of bagpipe Acoustics, Tunings and Scales, Jon Swayne waded - somewhat gingerly - into the murky depths of acoustic theory before taking an ear-tweaking examination of tuning. In the process he gave a remarkable demonstration of shaping his mouth over the drone top to highlight harmonics - strictly for bellows pipers only, that one!

Grasping the bull by the horns with characteristic energy, fiddler, music publisher and bornagain piping enthusiast Matt Seattle asked What is Border Bagpipe Music? There was, he acknowledged, “a multiplicity of visions” of what Border piping should be, but he stressed the importance of sources such as the Peacock Collection and Riddell collections of tunes in identifying a Border repertoire. Using his fiddle, he demonstrated various versions - from either side of the Border - of tunes, prompting some lively discussion as to how they might have been played and whether one could strive for an “authentic” sounding version.

After an excellent lunch, the afternoon started with a short programme of English and  

Border pipe music from the Goodacre Brothers, before Joan Flett spoke about her important work of collecting traditional Scottish dances with her late husband in Scotland during the Fifties and Sixties. Again, one of her themes was the importance of going back to the earliest sources. Much of her subject matter involved dance in the Hebrides, but what was particularly interesting was her account of the collection of Border dances done by Jon C.B. Jamieson in the village of Langshaw, not five miles from where the Collogue was being held. Jamieson started his collecting in about 1925 and formed a display team of dancers and by incredible good luck a silent film of this team had survived which the Fletts finally tracked down. Most of the dances had been filmed in the Borders, and some of them showed the dancers dressed in bondagers’ costumes. There were no pipes involved - the only instrumental accompaniment visible for some of the dances seemed to the melodeon, although there was also some remarkable footage of the famous dancing master “Dancie” Reid, dancing and fiddling at the same time while leading his dance class. There was a     certain poignancy in watching these sepia figures from the past going through their silent paces.

Colin Ross’s lively session on “Playing for Dancing” was what he called “an inter-active talk” which brought in the audience in discussion and covered appropriate tempos and the importance of the player watching the dancers to see if they were comfortable with what he was doing. The discussion ranged over many other matters, from the dramatic effect of key changes to where PA was necessary.

It was Andy Hunter who threw into the proceedings a firework which sparked off some fiery debate and not a little anxiety among some members. Although he had been billed to lead the “round table discussion” at the end of the day, and also to sing in the concert that evening, illness had prevented him from turning up that morning, and he only managed down for the afternoon session. But instead of leading the discussion as such, he announced that his main task would be to say some controversial things, and went on to do so, in an emotive and agitated statement of his concern that the direction of the Society had been “hijacked” by English and “Euro-piping” interests and was in danger of becoming “a North British branch of the English Bagpipe Society”, compromising its commitment to Scottish culture and traditions.

He was sorry that there seemed to be no representatives from the pipe band movement at the Collogue, for he saw the pipe band movement, along with the current enthusiasm among young people for ceilidh dancing, as examples of the tradition changing and developing in an organic way.

Unsurprisingly this prompted a deal of response. Colin Ross felt Andy was being unduly negative and pointed to the encouraging numbers with which young people were taking up small pipes. Roderick Cannon suggested that if there were problems with the Society, perhaps these were in themselves part of the very success of the Society. Jim Gilchrist said he sympathised with what Andy was saying, but if there seemed to be a disproportionately English emphasis, it was up to the Scottish members to do more - he saw this as being bound up with the need for members to try and get together and play more - and he felt that the annual general meeting on November 13th was the place for people to decide the kind of direction they wanted the Society to take. Events had over-run and it was now time to descend on Gala and forage for an evening meal - many cauld wind piping hot discussions were contained in small groups in a variety of Chinese restaurants, pubs and chippies all over town, before we all gathered at The Volunteer Hall for the evening concert and dance.

Despite much press, radio and TV coverage there was a disappointing turnout for this       excellent and varied event.

First on the stage were “Rose Amang The Heather”. This is a trio of Gordon and Barbara Mooney together with Elspeth Smellie on Clarsach. Elspeth singing and playing are one of the undiscovered wonders of the Scottish Borders and it is beyond explanation why she has not yet recorded a CD of Border ballads. Gordon and Barbara's playing are well known and the three work well together. This is a trio to look out for in the future!

Another local trio headed by Wattie Robson treated us to some spirited Border fiddling ably accompanied by Liz Moroney on guitar and singing with her husband on flute. The Border piping tradition may have had a break of 150 years or so, but the fiddling tradition has     remained unbroken, so it can provide us with important clues.

Ray Sloan is best known for his pipe-making, so it was good to hear his masterful playing together with Lynn Flynn on guitar and singing. A highlight was a beautiful and moving version of “Barbara Allan”.

Up until now the performers had appeared a bit distant, playing through a PA from the stage. Jon Swayne’s group “Moebius” bridged this gap by doing the obvious thing - playing acoustically and standing on the floor right in front of the audience. That is the way to really hear pipes! Their French inspired three part harmony playing is stunning. Jon’s tunes are very, very catchy and Don Ward’s and Judy Rockcliff's G/C Border pipes weave these tunes together as they are underpinned by Jon’s majestic low C pipes.

Finally “The Blue Moon Band” took the stage and most of the remaining audience took to their feet as their caller Elaine Carter taught some Border dances. Her style of calling was very clear and pleasing and she quickly taught a really enjoyable selection of dances - nearly all of which were unfamiliar to the dancers.

The band relies strongly on Matt Seattle’s fiddling and he was in fine form that night -     fiddling like fury, ably supported by the rest of the band. Matt is well known for his         researches into the Border piping tradition and was proud to point out that the band’s rendition of the tune “Drops of Brandy” was probably the first time this tune had been played for well over a hundred years. (The tune we know and love is properly titled “New Drops of Brandy”). Gordon Mooney joined in on Border pipes on several numbers near the end.

Sunday morning got off to a leisurely start with an introductory talk by Alan Jones. Alan had flown over from Canada for the Collogue along with his entire collection of about 75 bagpipes! Alan is quite a polished raconteur and he peppered his talk with several beautifully prepared impromptu quips! After giving a brief account of how he got into piping and collecting, he lead everyone upstairs to a room in Old Gala House where about a third of his collection was on display in cases. He gave a guided tour of the pipes and played a tune on several of the sets. (Incidentally, Alan’s pipes are no longer on display at Old Gala House, but they are currently stored there with a view to possibly setting them up on permanent   display. At last a Bagpipe Museum for Scotland?).

Much of the rest of the day was spent in informal talk and playing - indeed there seemed to be piping sessions in most of the rooms of the building. Ewan Ross, one of the Radio 2 Young Tradition finalists, had managed to drop by on his way back from the competition in London and was happily playing away at stunning speed. At 15 years old and only having played smallpipes for less than a year one can assume we will be hearing a lot more from him in the future....

Inevitably there was an outbreak of French dance music in one of the back rooms with the surprising sight and sound of The President of the Bagpipe Society, Jon Swayne playing a French waltz (very, very slowly)... on a melodeon! Piping began to fizzle out in the late afternoon as hunger was felt and once again the pipers descended on Galashiels for food.

The evening concert, once again in The Volunteer Hall, was much better attended than the previous night. The concert started with Hamish Moore and Dick Lee treating us to lively duets. By now they have built up a really solid musical partnership, which is a delight to see and hear in action. Hamish switches pipes with ease while Dick blows into a wide array of wind instruments. Later they were joined by two members of the Hungarian band       Vasmalom, and played a range of music from Hungarian to Scottish.

After the interval Vasmalom gave a dazzling performance of Hungarian music. Particularly notable was the cymbala playing of Kalma and the wonderful duet of Eva singing, with   Bolaiz chanting a kind of drone accompaniment with overtones. It was a great joy to hear the Hungarian pipes. They may be somewhat temperamental, but they have a very   special plaintive voice.

For the final number Hamish and Dick joined the band to play “The Ring Dance” - a       traditional Hungarian dance tune which sounded quite at home being played on the smallpipes! Bolaiz and Dick showed their obvious delight in playing soprano sax duets.

So ended “The Galarant” - an excellent and enjoyable piping weekend. Much thanks and praise must go to Gordon Mooney who almost single handedly conceived and organised it. Thanks also to the Border Festival for help with publicity and to Ballantine Cashmeres Ltd for their generous financial assistance.